UNION – Commercial and tribal shellfish harvesters are losing thousands of dollars because they can’t harvest clams and oysters at the mouth of the Skokomish River on Hood Canal.
The discovery of human waste and garbage left by sports fishermen forced the closure last week of about 400 acres of beaches in Annas Bay.
The Skokomish Tribe will probably be kept from commercial harvests at least through September.
Scott Grout of Gold Coast Oyster Farms said he was forced to dump 1,000 pounds of clams back on the beach because of the emergency closure and has cut his crew of eight down to two full-time workers and one part-time employee.
Taylor Shellfish Farms of Shelton has lost a potential $25,000 in clams the company was preparing to gather, said company spokesman Bill Dewey.
“What a mess,” Dewey told The Seattle Times. “It’s amazing that people can think that is OK.”
State Department of Health shellfish inspectors found numerous piles of waste behind bushes along the river and promptly closed the beaches on Aug. 18.
“We can’t wait for an illness outbreak,” Bob Woolrich of the state Office of Shellfish and Water Protection told the Kitsap Sun.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife opened the river to chinook salmon fishing Aug. 1. By some estimates, nearly 2,000 sport fishers were on the river at one time.
“I think it is fair to say that we got caught by surprise by the number of people,” said Phil Anderson, acting director for Fish and Wildlife. “We had more anglers than I have ever witnessed in the past, and we had a lack of facilities. We tried to act quickly to that.”
The department brought in additional portable toilets and trash bins and posted signs asking people to keep the river clean.
The closure has halted plans by the Skokomish Tribe to harvest more than 175,000 oysters from beds on Annas Bay.
David Herrera, fisheries policy representative for the tribe, said the state has known since a pollution study in 2003 that the Skokomish fishery was a problem, and it should have been better prepared.
“There are so many people, and they are fishing shoulder-to-shoulder and they believe if they leave their spot for very long they will lose their spot,” Herrera said. “They would rather step in the bushes; that is how that fishery operates.”
The tribe wants the recreational fishery closed, the waste cleaned up and a campaign started to make people aware of the problem.
Anderson said the actions taken by the state should avoid further major problems this year.
“We have a responsibility to manage the fishery,” Anderson said. “It’s also in our mandate to provide an orderly fishery. I do not want a repeat of this next year. I don’t think the sport fishery wants a repeat of this.”